The Explosive Power of Ethanol Rocket Fuel

This demonstration involves fire and is intended for trained chemistry teachers. Do not do this at home.

Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys is the story of kids in the 1950’s who were fascinated with rocket science. The characters use pipes filled with gun powder to experiment with rocketry. Teachers use the book as a literary connection with the science lesson about rockets. The key is in the nozzle. The book was later turned into the movie, October Sky.

The book is the perfect introduction to rocket science and the power of air pressure. Students build PVC Rocket Launchers with pipe and construction paper and then test their design in real life. Students don’t use fuel in their lessons but instead use air pressure.

Chemistry teachers can demonstrate rocket power by using ethanol. Ethanol fuel is becoming popular because it burns clean. When it completely burns, the byproduct is water. Carbon dioxide is also given off.

In rocket design,as the ethanol burns, there is a massive expanse of all of the fuel that comes out, pushing the rocket forward. By controlling the nozzle, the fuel does not come out, and you get more power.

3 replies
  1. Lorraine Brennan
    Lorraine Brennan says:

    Hi we had a science teacher purchase some E85 Ethanol from us to do this experiment with his class, He could not make this work. He emailed us explaining this so we tried with E85 first and then E100. We got no successful result. It appears that the fuel we are using does not give the explosive power as in your test video.
    What are we doing wrong?


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